Notebook shopping can be rewarding provided you are literate about the various features that various manufacturers offer. Popularity of notebook has soared more because of its portability without any compromise on performance. Since buying a notebook can be once in few years affair you need to be clear about its use.
Following is a condensed notebook buying guide dealing with just the main factors you need to keep in mind before purchasing one.
Buy by features-the core components
The need of the hour today is to carry work and information and instant access to internet to present information for sales and clinch business deals. So obviously the size and weight of the notebook you carry around matters a lot. Notebooks are categorized both on basis of weight and on basis of screen size.
The four basic sizes are:
1.Tablet PCs have all the normal functions. There is the added advantage of being able to physically write and manipulate applications with a specially designed input device- the Pen. The two types are the slate and the convertible. Example: Lenovo ThinkPad X41 2526, Lenovo ThinkPad X41 (S5519073) PC Notebook.
2.Ultra portable notebooks are extremely light with small keyboards and screen. There is however no compromise on emailing and web surfing capabilities and can connect to cellular broad band wireless providers. The CD/DVD drives are removed to save space. Lenovo ThinkPad X60 Ultraportable
3.Thin and light notebooks weigh five to seven pounds. The swappable media bays make it possible to switch between CD/DVD and spare battery. You will have to recharge often else carry the power adapters too. Lenovo ThinkPad X60s
(X60s_Standard_Ultralight)_BT…) PC Notebook
4.Desktop replacements are powerful notebooks, only that you won’t be able to carry it around much. Available with powerful processors, adequate memory, plenty of drive space and wireless connectivity. The negative factor associated being comparatively lesser battery life due to power draining screens and the powerful components.
This feature is crucial since the notebook is intended to be carried around. A frequent flier would prefer lighter systems with some compromise on its functionality. While a home user wouldn’t mind slightly heavier systems.
The travel weight specified must include the weight of power adapters and media bays but most manufacturers mention just the weight of the system and its batteries. Check out the models in the following three ranges:
0.6 to 4 lb. Most ultra portables come in this range.
4.1 to 5.7 lb. Thin and light models with reasonably good battery life.
5.8 to 10.1 lb. Desktop replacements weigh around 7 lbs.
Notebook displays come in thin film transistor Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) models, perfectly flat and just half an inch thick, as they are easily portable. Specifications state TFT Active Matrix Display or LCD Display. If you are a frequent traveler, a good combination of small size and less weight will be easier for you to carry around. In case you wish to view movies bigger displays will well serve the purpose. Check out the three commonly available sizes.
8.9 to 11.1 inches– most of them have smart designs and good battery life, but reduced video quality limits its uses
12 to 14 inches– good for watching movies and for gaming
14.1 to 17 inches– for gorgeous display and powerful performance, so, ideal for business presentations
Displays have another criterion which needs scrutiny before purchase. It is the display resolution- higher the resolution cleaner and crisper will be the image. Resolution is number of pixels across the width and height of screen. 1024 x 768 means 1024 pixels across the height and 768 pixels across the width. Pixels mean the individual dots that make up the picture.
In specifications the standard screen and widescreen is specified with abbreviations as XGA, SXGA, WXGA, WSXGA or WUXGA. The widescreen are fast becoming the rage because the reading space increases more with slight increase in size.
1024 x 768 Small displays 12.1 in. usually have this resolution XGA (1024 x 768), WXGA resolutions (1280 x 800). Larger screens too come with so low resolutions and they are cheap and ideal for budget computers.
1400 x 1050 Many large displays 12.1 and 15 inches come with this resolution like SXGA+ (1400 by 1050) and give very good picture quality.
1920 x 1200 Models with such resolution WUXGA (1920 x 1200) is ideal for making movies as there is more detail in the image and more work space on the display. However a negative factor associated with such high resolution is that the fonts tend to be smaller, difficult to read especially for people with poor eyesight. This factor is corrected by changing the font size in operating system but the correction can have unintended effects on other programs.
The screen is of two types Glossy and Matte. Glossy screens have the advantage of reduced screen door effect i.e. reduced black spaces between pixels, thus improving the contrast and brightness of the image. The disadvantage is the reflective ness causing eye strain. Matte screens don’t have this feature and are a lot cheaper than glossy ones. The brightness of LCD screen can be adjusted and a lower setting can help conserve power. The brightness is adjusted by adjusting the intensity of the back light inside the panel that illuminates the screen.
This is the most important feature of notebook. There are types of processors and subtypes of processors. Sub-types being ultra low voltage, low voltage, and normal chips of say Pentium M or Intel Core Solo. Low voltage processors give good battery life. So depending on the ultimate application you intend to use the specifications will vary. Since notebooks cannot be easily upgraded (any upgrade of CPU would require dismantling the system to the core and replacement of motherboard, RAM, and may be add another heat sink.) it will be worth the money if you spend enough for fast processors to satisfy your current and future requirements. No single processor can fit all needs and functions, it may be ideal for single function but not for all tasks.
Two of the leading companies manufacturing processors used in notebooks are AMD and Intel. The processor market is entirely in the grip of these two companies. The clock speed of single core versions of the processors produced has touched the upper limit. These single core processors develop heating problems when multiple functions are carried out. Both Intel and AMD have developed the dual core technology in its processors that has increased the multitasking capabilities of notebook PCs.
Intel uses the SpeedStep technology which senses and reduces frequency and power consumption if power is drawn from battery and increases the same if power is drawn from external source. AMD features PowerNow for the same purpose.
Knowledge of the processor type will be handy to install the correct packages. Some processor types in notebooks are:
Intel processors are Celeron M
Core 2 Duo
Processor speed is another factor to be considered. The one you would use for just surfing and as a letter box would be cheaper and slower, while heavy duty multitasking, running multimedia applications require faster processor and cost more.
1 to 1.5 GHz– A do everything notebook processor like creating and sharing documents, net browsing, send and receive mails, write or receive text messages, make phone calls etc.
1.6 to 2.1 GHz the double core processors with this speed give good performance and long battery life.
2.2 to 3.3 GHz The dual core CPUs are the fastest. Programs run faster with such fast processors, they cost more too. Recording videos, playing extremely high definition videos, touching up digital photos, video editing all require fast processors. These fast processors consume more power especially when used in portables.
The memory requirements depend on OS and the applications you plan to put in use. RAM is used to process the program information. More is always better for faster loading, printing and down loading of your files. Buy the ones that have easy to access memory slots as you would very soon want to upgrade this feature. There are two ranges of RAM available.
128 to 256 MB– this space can manage your daily mails and normal applications
512 MB to 2048MB for improved performance
A memory specification like 512 MB (DDR2 SDRAM) indicates; the space is 512 MB, DDR2 (double data rate 2 synchronous dynamic random access memory) is the memory type, latest widely used one. DDR2 is the new version of DDR. Speeds are assigned by the memory type and clock rating and another method by bandwidth.
Drives provide the storage for the computer programs. Again this choice depends on how much data you wish to store. Some laptop models come with swappable drives which increases the flexibility.
Drives have three specifications: size, type of interface and speed. Notebook hard drives come in two sizes; 1.8 inch and 2.5 inch. The 1.8 inch ones are mostly in ultra portables, while the 2.5 inch size Hard Drives are used commonly in other notebooks. IDE and Serial ATA are the two types of connectors between hard drives and computer and of the two it is IDE which is more commonly used. Speed at which the hard drive spins also determines the performance. Most notebook hard drive spins at 5400 rpm speed. A higher spin rate of 7200 rpm gives better performance but uses more power.
Following is categorization based on storage space.
1 to 31GB-Mostly incorporated in low cost budget notebooks.
40 to 80GB- Home users using notebooks for photos and videos, in addition to normal surfing can opt for 80 GB hard drives.
100 to 256GB- Most multimedia notebooks have dual hard drives of 200 to 320 GB. For gaming uses 100 GB should suffice.
The battery life definitely depends on the chores or tasks that are carried out; some of them being the applications like MS Office, Norton AntiVirus programs, Netscape. Huge amount of power is consumed for displaying images on the screen. The rest of the system like the core-logic, chip set and memory too draws power. Notebooks designed to handle large power consumption weigh more as they come with large batteries and thermal heat sinks.
If you are traveling too frequently go for batteries that have longer run time or purchase two of them and use both of them equally. Prefer the notebooks equipped with lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. Check with dealer for battery settings and battery backup so that it lasts long. Normally batteries can last 700 charging cycles.
Check the following three categories of battery run time:
1.5 to 3 hrs-great for viewing movies, video chats and photos at home, viable for budget desktop replacement.
3.1 to 4.3 hrs
4.4 to 12 hrs
These systems have high flexibility, more durability and security features. Business laptops use stronger materials and lighter cases, more mobility features like lightweights and wireless options. There are plenty of hardware features and software to choose from to configure to your business requirements.
These are available for less than $1000USD with a lot of compromise on speed, storage and convenience. So depending on what you wish to use it for, decide what tradeoffs are acceptable to you. A 100GB hard drive, fifteen inch screen, a DVD/CD combo drive which can be upgraded and connection ports should come within a reasonable budget. Check the following brands in the price range of 162.3 to 912.5 $:
These use fastest processors with powerful video cards, ideal for gaming, has good graphics and faster speeds. The gaming version can be for 3D games, wide-screen HDTV, and video editing studio and for dynamic presentations. While purchasing one consider the graphics, RAM and processors with highest speed. Lenovo ThinkPad T60p (200783U) PC Notebook, Toshiba Satellite A65-S126
Must haves are good portability, performance, battery life, light weight. A thin and light or ultra portable should fit the bill. It may be used for office applications and gaming purpose. Lenovo ThinkPad X60s
Home use Notebooks
Weight may not be major criteria. You may be using this for after trips video editing, storing pictures, and may be exchange information. You may wish for a large screen and 512MB memory, in a mid-range budget. Consider the following recommendations:
These are an all in one item. Serves as television, digital video recorder, mobile DVD player, MP3 juke box, digital photo album. Battery life of three hours so can be taken on vacation but definitely not for frequent travelers. Some models can boot to non-Windows environment to play audio CDs even when the system is off. It will require high speed processors and cost more too.
Buy by Budget
Everything ultimately depends on how much you intend to shell out from your pocket. Following are the three price ranges which will help you select the desired model with desired features.
162.3 to 912.5 $
937.8 to 1258 $
1269 to 3561.3 $
With stiff competition to capture the notebook market, manufacturers have come out with eye catching models, with ultimate performance but on the higher side of the budget.
Nevertheless there is one to suit every budget and every need. Check out the following brands:
Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo